cover image The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf

The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf

Kathryn Davis. Knopf Publishing Group, $23 (399pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41425-4

In her second novel, Kafka Prize winner Davis ( Labrador ) examines the rather labyrinthine friendship of two women, Danish composer Helle Ten Brix and 30-ish airport-diner waitress Frances Thorn, whose lives become entangled in upstate New York. The story opens with Helle's death; her will stipulates that most of her estate go to Frances's 10-year-old twin daughters Flo and Ruby, while her unfinished final opera is left to their mother. (The composition is based on a tragic Hans Christian Andersen story from which the novel takes its title.) Flashbacks to turn-of-the-century Denmark and the unhappy Ten Brix family (seen through Helle's not always reliable or truthful eyes) provide an intriguing contrast to the modern American story line, although they can be confusing--as can the abundant musical references for readers who are not experts in the field. Davis is an accomplished but sometimes heavy-handed writer; the book's two final climaxes seem strained and overly dramatic rather than organically derived from the story. (June)